After work last night, I raced down on the F train to see Ray Lamontagne play at Prospect Park. Despite the weather and forty-dollar tickets, the crowd was still very large. I'd like to think that most people were there to see Lamontagne, but Guster, the headliner, has some pretty dedicated fans. I even found out last night that one of my friends used to be in their fan club. Wow.
Ray Lamontagne has been in constant rotation in my iTunes for the past few months and Trouble has become an obsession of mine. I was first sent a live version of a non-album track called "Empty." That track left my head spinning for days. But it wasn't until I saw his Austin City Limits performance (from which that live track was taken) that I was a true "fan." The dude has a killer story, a great voice, writes amazing lyrics, and I learned last night that his beard is the real deal. My lack of facial hair makes growing a beard seem like The Odyssey, and I have instant respect for anyone who wants to look like Edward Abbey.
Trouble is a fucking fantastic album and could have been even better if Ethan Johns hadn't gotten his fingers on it. He over produced it and his involvement instantly made the Ryan Adams references go overboard. But even through that, Lamontagne made an amazing album that deserves more praise than it already gets. Imagine Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, and Smokey the Bear getting together for a mÃ©nage a trios.
With a three-piece band behind him, Ray stormed through a perfect set consisting mostly of tunes from Trouble . Every song that he sang last night seemed as though he was singing it for the first time. He puts everything he has into it and seems so painfully shy that the strength he exudes to be up there must mean that there's nothing else in the world that he'd rather be doing than signing a few folk songs to a drunken audience sipping on weird 16 oz. Bud Light bottles.
There were a lot of young hippie kids at the show last night too and I couldn't help but love it. Those kids aren't there to be part of any kind of scene. They're not there to hear some band that Pitchfork just praised. They're not there to be cool. They just wanted to watch this amazing man that came out of fucking nowhere to sing a few songs that he's scared shitless to sing. It's like seeing your best friend on stage. You feel proud, you feel like you had something to do with it. If they were there to see Guster, so be it. I don't care. With all the 21+ shows out there that I go to, I forget that kids listen to music for the right reasons - they just like it.
I don't think there is an artist out there that I could possibly sing more praises for than Ray Lamontagne. The dude does it right. Hate him, love him, don't give a shit about him - he's still cooler than you.